Hacking Sarah Palin

It’s not easy being a politician’s son. Just ask David Kernell.  

The 22-year-old grew up as the golden-haired son of a golden boy of Tennessee politics:  longtime Democrat legislator, Mike Kernell, chairman of Tennessee's House Government Operations Committee.

In the fall of 2008, his father was embroiled in a fight for reelection against a formidable opponent:  Tim Cook, a Homeland Security Special Agent and member of the FBI Gang Task Force.  David watched the battle from the sidelines, while he attended the University of Tennessee, an undeclared major living off campus with friends.  In the wee hours of Sunday September 21, however, David was having a party with friends when a team of FBI agents showed up.  The party-goers assumed there had been a noise violation, as the agents spent the next couple hours photographing the people and place.   But one kid wasn’t there to see the action unfold – David Kernell had slipped out the back door. 

On March 10, 2009, Kernell had nowhere to run as he stood in a US district court in Knoxville.  That day, the Feds filed felony charges against him for the most notorious cybercrime in years:   hacking into Sarah Palin’s email at the height of the presidential race.  Kernell was allegedly the hacker known as Rubico, who, posted a long explanation of how he busted into Palin’s Yahoo mail account.

"I really wanted to get something incriminating which I was sure there would be," he blogged.  The craziest thing of all was how easy it was for him to break in.  “It took seriously 45 mins on wikipedia and google to find the info,” he wrote.  But after successfully changing her password to Popcorn, the reality hit him hard. "It finally set in,” he continued, “THIS internet was serious business, yes I was behind a proxy, only one, if this shit ever got to the FBI I was fucked, I panicked, i still wanted the stuff out there but I didn't know how to rapid [share] all that stuff, so I posted the pass…and then promptly deleted everything, and unplugged my internet and just sat there in a comatose state."

in April, Kernell was convicted of obstructing justice and unauthorized access to a computer. He faces sentencing in October.  Though the case has not been found to be politically motivated, politicians and pundits have seized the story as just that.  "The fact that a Democratic activist - and possibly an Obama supporter - could go to these lengths is deeply disturbing and criminal," said Republican National Committee spokesman Danny Diaz.

Earlier this year, hackers broke into the Facebook page of UK Conservative Bill Wiggin, Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, and used it to invite his “friends” to view free webcam sex shows.  Not long before that, a candidate in Edinburgh named Cammy Day claimed hackers had hijacked his email address to post hateful comments about his opponent online. "In the last two months I have had to change my password twice to my Hotmail account, so someone is obviously trying to hack into my account,” he lamented, “I would suggest it is someone in the other parties who is trying to cause mischief."

Advertisement

Tech Talk

IEEE Spectrum’s general technology blog, featuring news, analysis, and opinions about engineering, consumer electronics, and technology and society, from the editorial staff and freelance contributors.

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up for the Tech Alert newsletter and receive ground-breaking technology and science news from IEEE Spectrum every Thursday.

Advertisement